Scientists in Schools

Keeping it simple

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  • Dawn Bartlett, Yass High School, Yass, NSW
  • Mark Reid, Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University (ANU)

Dawn with her Year 12 students

"Keep it simple" is the message from Dawn in her partnership with Mark. In just a couple of face-to-face visits a year, Mark and Dawn have shown students real life applications of mathematics and broadened their awareness about where maths can take them in the future.

Mark worked with Year 11 maths students to explain how his field of research in machine learning relies heavily on probability. Through using spam email and the way junk email filters learn, Mark put the topic of probability into a context the students could relate to.

"I appreciate the opportunity to encourage others to get excited about mathematics. Finding the sweet-spot between glossing over technical detail and not misrepresenting the ideas is challenging but rewarding," Mark reflected.

Year 8 students researching Mark

Students were fascinated to discover maths is much more than solving problems in a text book. Being able to interact with a real life mathematician has meant they can see maths as a career path. Nick summed this up, "It was good to get a different perspective on maths and to hear Mark's story."

From this interaction, work placements were created for Nick and Tom, with Tom spending time with Mark solving a variety of maths problems both by hand and through programming.

Dawn is enthusiastic about the influence their partnership is having on students and staff and is planning to extend it to Year 8 maths students later this year. "Keep it simple - don't over extend either your mathematician's commitment or yours. Having only a few interactions a year is fantastic."

Mark Reid